You could say it all started in a living room.
To be exact, the childhood living room of dancer and choreographer Vincent Thomas when he was growing up in Edgefield, South Carolina.
His parents would invite over their friends and relatives and they would crowd into this small room and just dance.
It is this joyous memory and the inspiring lyrics of Marvin Gaye’s famous 1971 song, “What’s Going On,” that Thomas brings together in a dance performance by that name 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, at the Myrna Loy Center.
The song, the living room, the social dancing -- all became the catalyst for this unique dancework.
Thomas is curious about what’s going on in this country and the world and uses dance as a way to explore that.
In each community Thomas and his dance troupe visit, the audience informs the dance.
“What’s Going On” premiered right after the November 2016 election, an event that Thomas admits left him speechless.
The dance “was cathartic,” he said. “It was like the medicine we needed at a crucial moment in one’s life.”
Through “What’s Going On” he personally found a way to go forward, he said.
“What’s Going On” explores, “what in our community do we celebrate, and at the same time, what are things we have concerns about?,” he said. “The beautiful challenge is how do we turn concerns into celebrations.”
“The premiere was amazing,” he added. In Washington, D.C., they performed six sold out shows and had to add a seventh.
They also sold out in Reston, Virginia, where it will return in 2018.
The dance work incorporates features of modern, jazz and West African dance and explores life, love and social justice through the lens of Gaye’s music.
A Washington Post reviewer called it, “A beautifully realized dance production...a soaring vision of collective harmony.”
Joining Thomas are eight professional dancers, as well as Helena dancers who’ve been dancing with Thomas this week in workshops, which he’s also been holding in the schools
During the performance, the audience is invited to share both what they celebrate and what concerns them.
In other cities, audience members celebrated everything from a grandmother’s birthday, to local parks and families.
People have concerns “around the political, the nature of what’s happening, where is this going, drug use, health care” and even the need for street lights, he said.
How do such diverse concerns come alive in dance?
“That’s the beauty and surprise of dance,” said Thomas.
“The beauty of dance and art is that it’s about the body,” he said.
It requires “deep listening,” said Vincent. “My first responsibility is to listen.”
The next challenge is “to find the spark and juice to turn these into physical representations.”
Working with Thomas are two associate choreographers, Sylvia Soumah, who choreographed a West African dance piece, and Ralph Glenmore, who is a jazz choreographer.
So expect to see these elements as well as social dance and contemporary or modern dance.
“What’s so wonderful is the fusion of all that,” said Thomas. “You always see the social dancing in the piece.”
“The seed of this piece starts in a living room,” Thomas said. “In my mind it was the kernel that allowed us to blossom from there.”
These living room dances were also happening during the Civil Rights movement, he added. He thinks of them as “physicalizing the social justice movement.”
And it was these social dances and watching such TV shows as “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand” that sparked Thomas’ love for dance.
It’s a love so strong that it won out over his initial career as a public school choral teacher.
Friday night’s performance “is not a dance concert,” Thomas said. “It’s something that engages, that’s physical, emotional, spiritual and socially engaging.”
Here the audience members are not just observers.
“Hopefully, people will see themselves in the piece,” Thomas said. The performance is meant for everyone from kids on up.
“They will laugh. They will reminisce. They might even cry -- not from a sad place but from a deeply thoughtful place,” he said.
“They’ll dance in their seats. They’ll walk away talking, not only about the experience but what they can do.”
According to Paul Douglas Michnewicz of the Reston Community Center, “It is a stunning production” and “extraordinary evening.”
Weaving throughout are songs “that everyone knows and loves” as well as projections and “an audience activism element ...I cannot recommend this production highly enough.”
RCC was a presenter and co-commissioner of “What’s Going On” along with Dance Place in Washington, D.C.
Myrna tickets are $26 general admission and $18 student.
They are available by visiting http://myrnaloycenter.com, or calling 443-0287 or visiting the Myrna at 15 N. Ewing.